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Michael Norton (doc) is Director of Engineering for Groupon in Chicago, IL. Michael's experience covers a wide range of development topics. Michael declares expertise in no single language or methodology and is immediately suspicious of anyone who declares such expertise. Michael is a DZone MVB and is not an employee of DZone and has posted 41 posts at DZone. You can read more from them at their website. View Full User Profile

Training Software Professionals

10.29.2010
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The Slides

Here is the slide deck to my SCNA talk, "Training Software Professionals, Just What the Doctor Ordered". In the past, my slide decks stood on their own. That is, you could thumb through the deck and easily glean all the key points of the talk. But I am trying to move away from that presentation style to one where the slides offer visual support, but the speaker (me) tells the actual story.



The Story

I am a Software Craftsman

From the moment the phrase was uttered, people starting formulating opinions about what it means. From guilds, exclusionists, and elitism to irresponsibly meticulous artsy-fartsy types to passionate life-long learners.

For me, Software Craftsmanship is trying to live my life in accord with the values. I am not claiming that I live my life entirely in accord with the values. I am saying that I endeavor to do so. Every day. Some days, I do better than others.

We Need To Talk

We need to talk amongst ourselves and with others. We need to talk about what we're doing to actively improve the quality of software. Or more accurately, what we're actively doing to improve the quality of software practitioners, through whom, software is developed and delivered. I don't believe I have the answers. I'm not even certain I have all the right questions. But I am certain that we, as a community, have everything we need to effectively address the issue of quality in our profession.

$1 Trillion by 2015

On September 10, 2010, Gartner Group published a comprehensive study of IT Debt worldwide. The debt is estimated at $500 billion at the end of 2010 with a projection to hit $1 trillion by 2015. Many discussions on software quality meander their way into a debate about the lack of need for rigor when lives are not at stake. Given worldwide IT Debt at $1 trillion, even if only 10 percent of it is from code, we are looking at $100 billion due to poor coding practices. This is somewhere in the range of $14 for each living human. This is more than a complete year's salary for every developer on earth. While we may not be able to draw a straight line from this debt to the loss of human lives, I've no doubt the connection exists.

Our profession is failing to deliver. We must do something.

How do we improve the quality of our code? I suggest we start by improving the quality of our practitioners.

What are others doing?

Many professions have been around for far longer than ours; hundreds of years, even thousands. We may be able to accelerate our learning by observing those who've gone before us. Among the professions actively dealing with the quality of their practitioners, is medicine. This is not to suggest the medical field has yet mastered their shortcomings, but we can still benefit from their progress.

Educating Medical Practitioners

Today's physicians are educated both at school and long after graduation. They begin with a general education followed by a more specific focus on medical science. While this provides them with the science, theory, and philosophy of medicine, it does little to teach them how to apply this learning to the care of people. School is followed by a period of internship or residency where budding physicians learn how to apply their knowledge to the art of caring for people. Physicians are licensed to practice medicine and certified in areas of specialty. They engage in lifelong learning both collaboratively and intentionally on the job as well as through formal (and sometimes informal) continuing education.

  • General / Specialized Medicine
  • Internship / Residency
  • Licensing / Certification
  • Collaborative Learning
  • Continuing Education

Software Development in Contrast

Comparatively, the standard educational process for software developers is a general education with a few classes covering multiple aspects of general technology and perhaps some classes focused on a language or development practices. No residency. Certifications with questionable value. No licensing. Informal self-directed collaborative learning. And no continuing education requirement.

A quick history of Western Medicine

To appreciate where the medical profession is today, it helps to take a look at the events that shaped their profession. This is not a comprehensive review. The medical profession has been around for over 5000 years. In 3000 BC, the egyptians had hospitals, nursing homes, and even medical insurance. Our focus is on Western Medicine with an emphasis on events influencing the course of medical education.

Hippocrates - 400 BC

Hippocrates is often referred to as the Father of Western Medicine. He made many significant contributions to the medical field. Much of what is done today can be traced to the findings and teachings of Hippocrates.

Perhaps most significant of Hippocrates' contributions was the separation of faith and medicine. Prior to Hippocrates, most of what ailed humans was considered to be attributable to deity. But Hippocrates thinking allowed him to look more locally for the source of what ails us.

Hippocrates taught in a Master/Apprentice fashion. He housed a few students and taught them in exchange for which they helped to tend to his land and stock. Students were provided the opportunity to learn, experiment, and eventually practice as he felt they were ready and capable. Students moved on to be practicing physicians and several eventually took on apprentices of their own. Significant priority was given to the proper clinical care and treatment of patients.

The Master/Apprentice format was the prevailing form of education for centuries to follow.

Canon of Medicine - 1025

The Canon of Medicine is a vast collection of medical knowledge from both Eastern and Western cultures spanning several millennia of learning. It was considered, at the time of its writing, to be comprehensive and complete. The canon ushered in a new style of medical learning. With a single text to teach from, Masters could significantly expand their audience and share with hundreds of students at one time rather than a mere few.

Schola Medica Salernitana

Considered the Birth Place of Modern Medical Education, this medical school in Solerno Italy set the example for the next several centuries. Physicians moved away from the Master/Apprentice model to a more scalable and rapid form of education taught in lecture format based on the Canon and supporting texts.

It was generally believed that the texts contained everything possible to know in terms of medical care.

Black Death - 1350

The bubonic plague was devastating. Nearly half of England was killed and over one third of all Europe died. Nothing known about the human body, medicine, surgery, or the cause of illness helped.

Schools focused on finding new ways of identifying and treating human ailments. For the next several hundred years, the medical industry focused intently on scientific discovery and learning.

But as physicians became significantly better at treating disease, they became far less capable at treating their patients. Science had become such a focus, that proper clinical care and treatment of patients was no longer a significant part of the educational process.

Osler and Flexner

In 1904, Sir William Osler wrote a paper urging medical schools to introduce residency as a part of the curriculum. Osler regularly had students accompany him on rounds in the hospital where they learned how to treat people in a clinical setting. He wished to return humanity to the practice of medicine.

Around the same time, the Flexner report was published. The report has a great deal of controversy surrounding it. The funding and execution were questionable, but the impact was significant. The report rated medical schools in the North Americas, identifying those meeting and those failing to meet a set of standards devised by the benefactor of the report. As a result, more than half of the medical schools in the US were closed or lost significant funding.

The remaining medical schools were incapable of meeting the demand while simultaneously implementing residency programs. It was not until the 1960s that residency was common practice for all medical students. As late as the 1980s, some medical licensing still did not have a residency requirement.

Today

As mentioned at the onset, the medical industry now embraces life-long learning with a balanced focus on clinical and non-clinical learning.

  • General / Specialized Medicine
  • Internship / Residency
  • Licensing / Certification
  • Collaborative Learning
  • Continuing Education


Lessons and What Next

Lessons

Scholastic education is merely the beginning. Knowledge is far more valuable when we know how to apply it. Licensing and Certification can have a positive impact on the level of professionalism. Practitioners share knowledge amongst themselves and create opportunities to learn together. Professionals engage in intentional life-long learning.

What Next

As I said at the onset, I don't believe I have the answers. I'm not even certain I have all the right questions. But I am certain that we, as a community, have everything we need to effectively address the issue of quality in our profession.

We Need To Talk

We need to talk amongst ourselves and with others. We need to talk about what we're doing to actively improve the quality of software. Or more accurately, what we're actively doing to improve the quality of software practitioners, through whom, software is developed and delivered.

But talk should not take too long. Rhetoric may convince many, but will achieve little.

We Need to Act.

Do something. Learn from it. Adjust.

References

The History of medical education: an international symposium …, Volume 673 By Charles Donald O’Malley, University of California, Los Angeles. Dept. of Medical History
Medicine
Medical School
Schola Medica Salernitana
Medical Education in the United States
History Medical Education
History of Medicine
Hippocrates
A short history of medical education in the United States
The Canon of Medicine
American Medical Education 100 Years after the Flexner Report
The acquisition of skills for practice requires radical transformation. Although the dictum “see one, do one, teach one” may have characterized the way in which clinical skills were learned in the past, it is now clear that for training in skills to be effective, learners at all levels must have the opportunity to compare their performance with a standard and to practice until an acceptable level of proficiency is attained.
- The New England Journal of Medicine, September 28, 2006
Internship
Residency
William Osler
References
Published at DZone with permission of Michael Norton, author and DZone MVB. (source)

(Note: Opinions expressed in this article and its replies are the opinions of their respective authors and not those of DZone, Inc.)

Comments

Mohan K C replied on Fri, 2010/10/29 - 7:31pm

Thish Programme is very well.

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